Words Gone Wild 2.0

Web 2.0’s value as a marketing term now far exceeds its value as a technical term. Anything Web 2.0 must be more techie, more interactive, and have more onlinier goodness than before, and therefore, just be better. “Web 2.0” is a straight shot into the brain, don’t worry about the subtle details of what it actually means.

What a handy shortcut …and a trap. I’ve posted before about the danger of adopting marketing terms as meaningful language. Marketing terms work because they are emotional shortcuts. Marketeers love these words because they can say more in less time, allowing the consumer to fill in the pesky details of whatever is being sold with what they were hoping to hear.

For educators, this is a cautionary tale about being swept up by what marketeers call an “empty vessel” – a term that evokes strong associations but actually is meaningless. (Think shampoo descriptions like “citreshine”, “silkessence”, etc. – made up words meant that evoke cleanliness, fullness, and the happy feeling of lush, shiny hair, but without any actual science behind it.)

You may have heard that Web 2.0 is “all about” interactivity, ease-of-use, democratizing publishing, collaboration, communication, connectivity, users vs. bosses, new business models vs. old, two-way vs. one-way, personalization, micro-functionality, customization, online apps, the new architecture of society, networking, a platform, innovation, long tails, style, transparency, participation, generative, folksonomy vs. directories, the wisdom of crowds, clouds, self-sorting, finding vs. searching, syndication vs. stickiness, services, an attitude, a network that learns, emergent, in perpetual beta, the collective intelligence, engagement, … should I go on?

All of these are true, and at the same time, none of them are the true single lens to see what Web 2.0 is. Something this malleable, this variable, this divergent, can’t also be meaningful in any one single sense.

And because Web 2.0 is essentially meaningless, what it means for learning is not known without more details. Talking about Web 2.0 tools and learning is meaningless as well – until you  explain what the tools are, what they are used for, and what the students do with them. It’s just not good enough to talk about how the Luddites don’t get it. Simply using the term “Web 2.0 tools” deliberately obscures the facts — no wonder people don’t get it.

Can this be undone? Can we nag people into proper usage? No, I don’t think so — it’s a done deal. Web 2.0 has reached escape velocity into the orbit of common use, one more empty vessel pretending to have meaning where there is none. It’s too easy, too convenient a shortcut to express the current new new thing. There is no way to wrangle it back down to earthly reality. These terms are typically short-lived, though, as the next new new thing will surely take its place.

Web 3.0 anyone?


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